Women Fight Fascism

Europe, 1930s-40s


In the 1930s fascist ideology attempted to establish narrow roles for women. While women were expected to sacrifice and join organizations to raise money for fascist causes, they were not to make policy nor question their roles. Rather they were expected to give up their jobs, stay home and have children.

In Germany, monetary incentives were offered to "Aryans" to marry and have children. Contraceptives were banned, birth control clinics closed, and the penalties for abortion increased. In the late 1930s, breeding camps were established in Germany where "racially worthy" selected women were impregnated by SS men with the goal of creating children to serve in the armies of the future.

In Italy, Mussolini said that twelve children were the ideal number for a family in order to provide soldiers needed to stand up to "ninety million Germans and two hundred million Slavs." He imposed a tax on "unjustified celibacy," and wanted another on childless marriages. He also ordered firms to discriminate against women in favor of employing family men, and told husbands that their duty was to correct the behavior of their wives. Claiming that when a woman works it distracts from her reproductive abilities, Mussolini said that it also creates "an independence and consequent physical and moral habitsThe man, disoriented and, above all, 'unemployed' in every sense of the word, ultimately renounces the familyThe exodus of women from the work force would, without a doubt, have economic repercussions on many families, but legions of men would be able to raise their heads high and hundreds of new families would suddenly enter national life. It is necessary to convince ourselves that the same work that causes woman to lose her reproductive attributes furnishes man with an extremely powerful physical and moral virility. Such a virility the machine should sustain."

Many brave women tried to resist the frightening rise of fascism in Europe. With the advent of World War II even more joined the struggle. In the countries that were invaded, like France, Poland and Italy, some women became soldiers. In the U.S.S.R. thousands of women fought in special resistance units. Best known were female pilots whose speciality was precision night bombing. More commonly, women worked in underground resistance organizations, protected persons wanted by the authorities, or used their skills as writers, speakers, artists or performers to challenge the ideas and deeds of fascism. The following pieces reveal fascist beliefs about women and differing ways women countered fascism.

German Women vs. Adolph Hitler

In the 1930s German women who opposed Nazi fascism mostly came from left parties. When Hitler came to power all women's organizations were ordered to accept Nazi leadership or disband. Many prominent German feminists went into exile or were sent to concentration camps. The following appeal to women was issued in 1932, on the eve of Hitler's rise to power, by a women's committee closely associated with the German Communist Party.

Wives, mothers girls of the Working Class!
We appeal to you at this critical time to
join together in anti-fascist action!

The Nazis tell you that they want to save the family. In Braunschweig where a Nazi, Klagges, governs, all regulations concerning the indigent are brutally enforced against working people. Klagges has canceled all plans for mothers' homes and nurseries. He gave an order to evict a tubercular unemployed worker, his pregnant wife, and their two small children. The mother was forced to deliver her baby in a windowless room six meters square with the rain pouring through the roof.

The Nazis demand the death sentence for abortion.
They want to turn you into compliant birth-machines.
You are to be servants and maids for men.
Your human dignity is to be trampled underfoot.
Your families will be driven to
desperation from ever greater hunger
The Nazis are the deadly enemies of liberation
and equal rights of women.
You must refuse to deal with them!
Whatever party or world-view you favor -
come and join together in
anti-fascist action...
Form united committees for the joint battle against
hunger, fascism, and war!

Essay from
I Will Not Bow My Head
Documenting Political Women In World History

Lyn Reese is the author of all the information on this website
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